Coming off a defeat to Harvard this past Friday, the Michigan men’s tennis team was looking for a reset against Washington.
The Wolverines (4-2 overall) pounced on the opportunity defeating the Huskies (3-3) on Sunday, 4-1. Michigan showcased its ability to strike immediately in their sweep of doubles and set the tone for the rest of the match.
Doubles has undeniably been a problem for the Wolverines, losing the doubles point in four of their five matches. The energy coming into the match helped subdue the team’s doubles struggles.
“It was the first time (freshman Alex Cairo and I) played together so we had a lot of energy and we tried to focus on first serves and making good returns,” sophomore Nicholas Steiglehner said. “Focused on the basics.”
This concentration on the basics reverberated through their play as they began to take over the set with their strong understanding of the game. After splitting the first two games, strong serves by Cairo blustered their opponents and well-placed returns by the pair in game four allowed them to take a strong command of the set.
Michigan juniors Will Cooksey and Patorn Hanchaikul also set out on a similar pace, not taking a step off the gas pedal and fighting to break Washington’s serve. Both pairs ended up taking 6-2 wins over their opponents. The duo of Michigan seniors Gavin Young and Jacob Bickersteth was one of endurance as neither pair lost their serve before the game got halted 5-4, with the doubles point already in hand for the Wolverines.
Michigan’s success translated smoothly into singles. Cooksey and Hanchaikul both came off their doubles win buzzing, each securing first set victories of 6-3, capitalizing on the mistakes of their opponents. Young and Steiglehner similarly bursted out to quick 6-2 victories. Steiglehener used a strategic view to control the game, understanding the best way to use the court.
“When (Washington’s Brett Pearson) came to the net, I tried to focus on cross court passing shots,” Steiglehner said.
This use of the court was evident in his playstyle when Steiglenher utilized well placed shots that forced his opponents to stay on their toes. Steinglehner would rally at the back of the court with powerful returns only to quickly switch his shot to a quick dink over the net keeping his opponent off balance. The fluidity of the playstyle often proved a prevailing factor in his sets.
Steiglehner came out of his first singles set looking a little tired. But after splitting the first four games, Steiglehner captured the momentum of the match, winning eight points straight to take game five, game six and start game seven. Steiglehner won the second point for Michigan in singles. After Cooksey continued his quick assault, on the basis of his strong serve, and took his second set 6-3, Steiglenher’s win took Michigan into a commanding position with a 3-0 lead.
Despite Swenson losing his match and a lack of decisiveness in either of Young or Hanchaikbul’s second sets, Bickersteth took hold of his own.
Bickersteth fought tooth and nail for every inch of ground in his second set. He split the first eight games with his opponent, Dzianis Zharyn. After coming off a quick break, Bickerteth found a new gear and exploded in his next two games, finally securing a second 6-4 victory. His victory delivered the 4-1 win to Michigan.
“I think we’re starting to build that resiliency in the group,” Michigan coach Sean Maymi said.
No set showed that resiliency better than Bickersteth’s. With him leading the team, the Wolverines showed plenty of fight and resilience to decisively win over Washington – the traits they will hope to continue to cultivate moving into tougher competition.